This morning’s hike along Stony Creek was slow going. Although the trail was easily visible and there were no hills to climb, the valley was extremely narrow (only 50-100 yards across), and the trail was perched on the side of a steep hillside, which meant lots of little climbs and descents of 5-10 feet at a time, and my ankles were working hard on the sloping track.
After a couple of miles (which took me nearly 2 hours), the valley broadened out, and the trail crossed the creek via a ford. The track then crossed Limestone Creek and headed steeply uphill for 400 feet before heading off into the scrub again. Although there wasn’t really a defined path, the map, the shape of ground and the occasional trail marker nailed to a tree was helped me find my way easily enough, although the need for constant navigation checks made for slow progress. It was also obvious that a few seasons ago (4-7 seasons at a guess, judging by the condition of the timber), the Park Rangers had come through with a chainsaw, and cut sections about a yard wide through large fallen logs. These neatly sawn logs provided another valuable navigation cue to identifying the correct route.
Which was just as well, because the location of the path on the map was about a quarter of mile off where it was in reality, which had me very concerned at one stage as a quarter of a mile in thick forest is not an inconsiderable error.
I had lunch on the banks of Dead Horse Creek, having covered only about 4 miles the entire morning. Having refuelled my body, and refilled my water bottles, I then tackled the major climb of the day.
It started easily enough, with a gradual climb of about 400 feet over a mile to a saddle, at which point the route turned west and began climbing seriously. This was definitely the toughest climb of my trip so far. After that initial 400 feet, the track then climbed the next 1000 feet in just 0.7 of a mile, an average gradient of 1 in 4, with the steepest 600 feet being a gradient of 1 in 3, or 33%. So for all of you who find your heart pounding at 10% on the treadmill, imagine 3 times as steep, with a heavy pack, on a loose surface. Even though I was probably walking at less than half a mile an hour, my heart rate was consistently well into the cardio range. But hey, that's part of the reason I am out here hiking in the first place.
The path then flattened out for about half a mile, before climbing steeply another 750 feet. I eventually reached the top of the mountain at 6 pm, just in time to listen to the news (and more importantly, the weather forecast) on the small radio I was carrying.
So after walking nearly 8 hours (after allowing for rest breaks, I had covered less than 8 miles, and I still had a long way to go until my intended campsite for the night. And now I had a problem – I had used up all the water I was carrying (2 quarts) climbing up this monster of a mountain, and being the top of the mountain there was no re-supply available.
But reaching the top of the mountain was also a positive, because I now joined a good vehicle track (appropriately named ‘Mount Misery Trail’ – I kid you not) along the ridgeline, and was able to move faster for a while.
However, the official route veered off the track after a couple of miles and headed off into the scrub. I attempted to follow it, but lost the path after just a couple of hundred yards. I am sure I could have located in again, but with night approaching, I decided to consider other options, as a steep descent of about 3 miles through scrub on a poorly defined foot pad in failing light was not attractive. My detailed topographical map showed a couple of potential tracks, but they didn’t meet up (or at least if they did, it was off the edge of the map). However, a check of a much smaller scale map showing a much larger area indicated they did meet up, so I headed back towards Misery Trail to take that option.
Misery Trail didn’t live up to its name. It was a well defined and relatively flat track running north and slightly east along the ridgeline, and I was able to keep up a good 2.5 mph pace until I reached the intersection with Buckwong Track at dusk, although I was definitely feeling the effects of no water at that stage. I followed Buckwong Track westwards, and it soon began descending steeply (about a 15% gradient).
This night descent had the potential to be treacherous, but I had little alternative – to get water, obviously I had to head down off the ridgeline and into the valley. The eyes work differently at night than they do during the day, and most people don’t know how to use their natural night vision. Fortunately, thanks to my army training, I do. (Basically, you want to look obliquely rather than directly at objects, and keep moving your eyes to avoid what light there is from ‘bleaching out’ the photoreceptor cells).
After a couple of miles (and a descent of 1500 feet), I eventually came across a small stream. I downed a quart of water on the spot to rehydrate, and filled my water bottle with another quart to take with me. After another mile, I eventually reached my campsite on Buckwong Creek. After a pretty tough day, it didn’t take me long to set out my gear, have a quick (but oh so very satisfying dinner) and go to bed.
Total distance 23.1 km 14.4 miles
Total ascent 739 m 2425 feet
Total descent 650 m 2133 feet
Sketch map showing today's hike